When films were modern art

By Jerome Tarshis

By way of calling public attention to its 75th anniversary this year, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is making a major advertising push all over town. The lion’s share of advertising mentions “The Anniversary Show,” a survey of seven and a half decades of painting, sculpture, and photography in the museum’s permanent collection. Almost lost in the hoopla is the museum’s recognition of its on-again, off-again commitment to having a film program, which included an early experimental filmmaker from the neighborhood.
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Two new film fests nearby

In a city with a film festival for every subculture, two new ones have arrived in the neighborhood: the Mostly British Film Festival at the revived Vogue Theater on Sacramento Street and the Jazz Heritage Film Festival in the Fillmore Jazz District.

From February 4 to 11, the Mostly British Film Festival brings films from the U.K., Ireland, Australia and South Africa to the Vogue. “We jokingly call it a Foreign Film Festival For People Who Don’t Like Subtitles,” says programmer and longtime Chronicle movie writer and editor Ruthe Stein.

As part of its new jazz and film initiative, the Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center will present a three-day Jazz Heritage Film Festival February 5 to 7 led by jazz film historian Hal Miller. Miller — who is also percussionist in Carlos Santana’s band — will present rare footage from his extensive collection of many of the most revered and significant musicians in the history of jazz.

During February, the center will also host twice-weekly film screenings on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. And an exhibition of vintage jazz film posters will be presented in the lobby of Yoshi’s, the jazz club that heralded the rebirth of the area.

Her baby, the Mostly British Film Festival


From February 4 to 11, the Mostly British Film Festival comes to the Vogue Theater on Sacramento Street. It’s the brainchild of longtime Chronicle movie writer and editor Ruthe Stein, who’s just back in town from the Sundance Film Festival.

Tell us about this new film festival coming to the neighborhood.

It’s the Mostly British Film Festival, showing 32 films from the U.K., Ireland, Australia and South Africa. We jokingly call it a “Foreign Film Festival For People Who Don’t Like Subtitles.”

This festival comes at a great time because so many wonderful movies from these countries can no longer secure American distribution. That means the festival may be the only chance to see such terrific movies as “London River,’’ a tearjerker starring Brenda Blethyn as the mother of a missing daughter, which opens the festival, and “Balibo,’’ a political thriller from Australia starring Anthony LaPaglia. We will also present the Northern California premiere of the much-lauded “Red Riding Trilogy,’’ which British film scholar David Thomson recently called “better than ‘The Godfather.'” Thomson, who lives in the neighborhood, will introduce the films.

How did the festival come to the Vogue?

Because it is operated by my friends Alfonso Felder and Jack Bair. They saved the Vogue from extinction two years ago by forming the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, which bought the place. Alfie and Jack share my love of cinema and I told them if I ever had time I would do some programming for the Vogue. Now that I’m no longer a full time staff member at the Chronicle, I have the time.
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A lifetime of loving film

Global but local: film critic David Thomson on Fillmore. Photograph by Lucy Gray.

“What should I see?”

It’s the question the eminent film critic and historian David Thomson is asked most often — sometimes even as he walks his dog in Alta Plaza Park or runs errands on Fillmore Street.

Now, more than three decades after he published his landmark Biographical Dictionary of Film, Thomson has responded to the question comprehensively in a new book published in October 2008 titled Have You Seen…? Its subtitle bills it as “A personal introduction to 1,000 films, including masterpieces, oddities, guilty pleasures and classics (with just a few disasters).”
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